I was 28 and he was just hitting It was my first steady, long-term relationship, and we did what I used to think of as "grown-up" things. Like having Sunday football parties or fighting in Home Depot about what color to paint an accent wall in our living room. We made complex weekday dinners to distract ourselves from the fact that we were both pretty bored with each other. Of course, I wasn't really grown up, because I had never even been tested for HIV at my yearly checkup at Planned Parenthoo where I went for primary care. Taking care of your health is more adult than playing house with a boyfriend, yet, even though I had been tested for STIs, I had never thought of getting an HIV test.
I am HIV positive, but it is undetectable, which means I am one of the estimated 30 percent of the 1.
Undetectable means is that the amount of HIV virus in my blood cannot be detected by a lab test. When a person goes on treatment - I take one pill a day - undetectable is the goal. Staying on treatment and keeping my viral load at undetectable levels means that I'm going to lead a long healthy life.
Even better, it means that there's no risk of sexual transmissioneven if I don't use a condom though I'm better at that now, obviously. But many people are still unaware of this development in HIV treatment or are unwilling to accept the science because of the stigma that surrounds the virus. In the LGBTQ community, the absence of risk when it comes to sleeping with an undetectable partner, and using a condom to prevent other STIs, is much more widely accepted and normal, though still tough.
But as a single heterosexual woman, I have the added challenge when dating of convincing men, who are often just as naive as I used to be, that they can be intimate with me.
It feels like I have to twist someone's arm to see past my HIV viral load.
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You can sleep with me, I swear! That's why I initially avoided the entire conversation when I tried to get my groove back after Matt. For a while, I either didn't disclose my status at all or disclosed way too late for a number of reasons.
Shame and fear was a part of it, but even more so I think there was a part of me that wanted to pretend that HIV hadn't happened to me.
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That I could go on bad Tinder dates and laugh about them at brunch with my friends, get set up with friends, and pick up a guy when I was out for the night, just like everyone else. Not disclosing my status at first led to a lot of heartache and unnecessary hurt for both me and my partners when I did eventually give them the "bad news.
The 'bad news' was less about their risk of getting HIV and more about how I had deceived them, which is not an especially attractive quality in a mate. Not only did it lead to drama, but it was also dangerous at times.
I got lucky for a little while and seriously dated a man for about a year, though I had initially lied to him for two months about my status. He forgave me and we worked through it, like grown-ups, and had a good time getting to know each other, but the insecurities that came along with the initial deceit led to more baggage than was healthy for either of us.
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We broke up, but still fall into bed together now and again, as one does with ex-boyfriends. It was messy, but my relationship with him taught me that being HIV positive doesn't have to be a barrier to intimacy, physical or emotional, and being scared to disclose hurt others more than myself.
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He made me feel "normal" again. Other men have not been as rational or kind.
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There have been way more trainwreck experiences than good ones since I've been out and open about my HIV status. This summer, I tried to disclose my status on dating apps around that moment when they suggest meeting up IRL. This feels necessary because in New York City, at least, dating apps tend to be used for hookups more than for finding a soulmate.
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After some polite, "oh, nevermind, then" responses or straight-up ghosting, I decided on my next date to wait until over drinks to disclose. He ordered another drink, thoughtfully, and then said, "Well, that's OK, you can still go down on me, right? The few - very, very few - who were not as terrible were equally worthless. After a few times together, they made it clear that dating a woman with HIV seriously is not something they really want to get into, which is almost worse than someone not taking you out at all.
For the first time in my life, those hookups made me feel cheap and used and sad - rather than excited. Sometimes, I don't know if it's me or my HIV that keeps me dreadfully single.
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Sometimes, like many women, I picture myself growing old alone, loveless and sexless, feeding a cat while watching Real Housewives marathons. And I don't even like cats, so it's an even more depressing thought. Then again, I feel lucky that HIV has shown me what it means to date more carefully, like a "grown up," whatever that means.
Maybe everyone eventually grows out of their hookup phase, I don't know, but my diagnosis hurried up that process. I used to think my active sex life meant that I was sex positive, but I wasn't.
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